Decembeard news: more effective bowel screening is on its way

Every December, men across the UK throw away their razors and grow beards to promote Decembeard, Bowel Cancer UK’s annual event to raise awareness about bowel cancer.

The disease is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. But according to the charity it shouldn’t be.

This year’s event coincides with the news that a new screening test will be introduced in England in 2018. NHS England has confirmed its plans to introduce the new faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which could help detect more cancers earlier. The test has already been introduced in Scotland, and is expected to be rolled out in Wales in 2019.

FIT is easier to use than the current screening test and is more accurate, says Bowel Cancer UK. So how does it work exactly?

The current screening test in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is called a faecal occult blood test, which you do yourself at home. You’re offered the test if you’re over the age of 60 (in Scotland, screening starts from age 50), and should automatically be sent the test kit in the post.

The test works by checking for the presence of blood in a small sample of poo. But the FIT measures the level of blood in a very small amount – just one gram – of your sample. It then compares that amount of blood against a sensitivity scale – the proposed starting sensitivity threshold will be 120 micrograms per gram in England. According to the charity this means an extra 1,500 cancers could be detected.

“The introduction of FIT is a game-changer for bowel cancer,” says Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK. “We know that the test is more accurate, which means it can detect even more cancers earlier, when the chance of survival is high.”

The charity also points out that, whatever type of bowel cancer screening test you receive in the post, completing it and sending it back could save your life. That’s because the test aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment has the best chance of working. The text can also find polyps (non-cancerous growths), which might develop into cancer.

Reducing your risk

According to Bowel Cancer UK, 54 percent of all bowel cancers could be prevented if more people had a healthier lifestyle. Here’s what the charity recommends to reduce your risk right now:

Watch what you eat Try to avoid eating processed meats as much as possible, including bacon, ham, sausages and salami. Also cut back on the amount of red meat you eat – aim to limit yourself to 500g or less (cooked weight) per week. In the meantime eat plenty of foods that contain fibre, such as whole grains, pulses, fruit and vegetables.

Lose weight Thirteen out of 100 bowel cancer in the UK are estimated to be linked to being overweight or obese. So try to make sure your weight is healthy. Ask your local Careway pharmacist for advice on weight management.

Stay active People who are more physically active have a lower risk of bowel cancer. Aim to achieve the government’s recommendations for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week – work up to this gradually if you’re not used to exercising (always speak to your GP before starting any exercise programme if you have a medical condition).

Drink less It’s estimated that around 11 percent of bowel cancers in the UK are linked to alcohol. To keep health risks from alcohol as low as possible, aim to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis and spread your drinking over three or more days if you regularly drink that amount.

Give up smoking Eight percent of bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to smoking, says the charity. Smokers are also more likely to develop polyps that could turn into cancer if they’re not discovered. If you need help with quitting smoking, your local Careway pharmacist can provide plenty of advice and support.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.